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House Leaders Seek Further Cuts on Extender Package to Win Votes

Even as their Senate counterparts prepared to jet out of town for the Memorial Day recess without passing a major package of tax breaks and unemployment benefits, House Democratic leaders were hunting for support in their ranks for a pared-back version of the measure Thursday.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said the latest plan would be to go to the Rules Committee on Thursday night with the stripped-down bill and go to the floor Friday, provided leaders can get the votes they need from the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. The Blue Dogs have thrown up some of the most strenuous opposition to the package.

After an afternoon huddle with her leadership team about how to proceed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “I feel comfortable that we’ll have something that will reach our goals.”

Democratic leaders sliced about $50 billion from the bill Wednesday to assuage concerns from fiscal conservatives and others wary of new deficit spending. But the scaled-down package failed to sway gun-shy Democrats in the rank and file. So on Thursday evening, leaders started shopping a proposal that would trim about $30 billion more from the bill by cutting extended health care benefits for the unemployed and a Medicaid subsidy for states.

There were some early hints that the new strategy could be yielding results. “They’re clearly listening,” said first-term Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), adding that leaders were “pretty determined” to pass the bill.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a member of the Blue Dogs, said he was leaning in favor of voting for it.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, co-chairwoman of the Blue Dog Coalition, said she remained undecided about the latest pared-back proposal but that it was getting closer to a package she could support.
“Obviously they’ve heard our concerns,” the South Dakota Democrat said. “I think it’s moving in the right direction for a lot of folks, yes, and it clearly has moved in the right direction.”

In the Senate, Majority Whip Dick Durbin did not know whether stripping the bill of items like the unemployment health care benefits would hurt or help its chances in that chamber.

“I don’t know. It’s painful for many of us who have sympathy for the unemployed to see that COBRA issue change,” the Illinois Democrat said. “But we deal in the real world where you need majority votes to pass a bill.”

He punted on whether the Senate could pass it before leaving town.

“I’m going to wait and see the final version — this has changed so many times — and whether we can do it before the break, I’ll leave that to Harry,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Steven T. Dennis and Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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